(CNN) – The “Cammino 100 Torri” – or 100 tower path – consists of over 1000 kilometers of paths by the sea that mostly go around the island of Sardinia, and may not be Italy’s most famous hike, but it is certainly the most spectacular.
This epic tour, filled with blood-red sunsets, ancient architecture and stunning beaches, departs from the town of Cagliari on the southern tip of Sardinia.
From there, eight different trails await for a total of 1284 kilometers, offering hikers the best that Italy’s second largest island region has to offer.
The whole experience takes an average of 45-60 days to complete. But for those who have a short time, it can easily be divided into smaller trips.
The most important highlights, as the name of the trail suggests, are the 100 stone lookout towers along the coasts of Sardinia. Built in the 16th and 18th centuries to defend against enemy encroachment – pirates included – most have fallen into sinister ruins, although some have been turned into lighthouses and private homes.
Once roamed by warriors, merchants, pilgrims, priests and raiders, the trail rewards today’s hikers with the unique scents and nature of the Mediterranean coast, with its purple rocks, twisted beach branches and sand grains as thick as rice.
A spiritual journey
The 100 Towers Path takes hikers past fishing villages, ancient chapels, castles, salt pans, abandoned caves, ponds and desert-like dunes, overlooking Sardinia’s transparent waters never far away.
But for Nicola Melis, a local engineer who rediscovered 100 Towers Path six years ago and has since circled the island alone four times, its allure lies behind just beautiful scenery.
“It’s more than just a road, it’s a spiritual pilgrimage in your innermost self,” he told CNN Travel. “If you do it alone, it’s a physical and mental challenge. You conquer the deepest beauty of Sardinia through strain, and it’s rewarding.
“I love the toughest parts, like the steep uphill to the high cliffs of Baunei, along the Ogliastra path, with the greatest view, because you only rely on your own strength and endurance. You never forget your first hike here, it’s like your first car or girlfriend. “
On certain parts of the trail, hikers can soothe their tired feet in the warm waters of the Mediterranean.
Melis says that what pushed him to recover and promote the route was the discovery of a soldier’s brochure dating back to the 16th century that mapped the entire network of defense towers. The soldier traveled the route on horseback, and then, spiritually changed by the long journey, he decided to become a monk.
How to deal with it
If stretched in a straight line, the 100 tower path is long enough to connect the Italian Alps with the deepest southern countries. The longest it deviates from the coast is only two kilometers inland.
Hikers are advised to start counterclockwise from Cagliari, allowing them to avoid the intense Mistral northwest wind that will blow towards them at the start of the hike, making it tougher.
Travelers can also join one of the association’s regular organized groups, usually consisting of 20-60 hikers, or go on their own journey as many days as they want. It is open all year.
Hikers who choose to do it alone are advised to assess their skills and fitness levels before setting out and keep in mind that they may find themselves on a hike under a scorching summer sun.
“You need to be in shape, prepare to exert your muscles and avoid carrying a backpack that weighs more than 10% of your body weight,” says Melis.
“You will find drinking water fountains and bars along the way, but sometimes they are far away, so study the journey well.”
Giants, angels and demons
Melis says there are four trails that have become especially popular with hikers.
The shortest and simplest, ideal for beginners, is the 62 kilometer long Angels’ Path which runs from Cagliari north towards the resort town of Villasimius.
The tour starts from one of the city’s oldest chapels, and passes the first five towers in a ring-like direction. Called the ‘devil’s hall’, it continues along baby powder and pebble beaches, quiet coves, caves and seabeds of coral reefs.
The Sarcapos Trail is next, which runs from Villasimius to Tertenia for 143 kilometers, offering mainly pure beach happiness along the pristine coastline of the Costa Rei. It takes about 5-7 days to complete this tour, which has a pond inhabited by pink flamingos, rocky hills, a river and the ruins of a Phoenician lost city, a temple and necropolis.
The scents of strawberry and mastic trees, myrtle and oak trees mix with the salty sea breeze.
The most challenging trail is Ogliastra, on the east coast, suitable for experienced hikers. It goes over 144 kilometers and takes almost a whole week to complete, leading Baunei’s steep mountains to fascinating boulders such as Cala Gonone, crossing pine and juniper forests, natural stone arches, ancient sheepfolds, ancient coal traders and donkey routes used by shepherds.
This takes travelers into the pristine wilderness of Sardinia and offers stunning panoramas.
100 Towers Path consists of eight trails that stretch 1284 kilometers.
Archeology lovers will enjoy the pagan “Giants Trail” on the eastern Sinis Peninsula, another must-do part of the 100 Towers Path. The name comes from the primitive nuraghe dwellings found in the area, called “Giants”, which resemble miniature Stonehenges.
Hikers will wander through the lost Phoenician city of Tharros, with its ruins in the landscape, and come across sacred pagan wells, an ancient Roman road and an aqueduct.
Meanwhile, the Mines Trail, on the southwest coast, cuts through the high white dunes of Piscinas, a huge desert-like powdery white beach with one of the most translucent seas in the Mediterranean.
Abandoned mines and strange sea stacks such as the “sugar peak” are the main peaks.
“100 Towers Path connects 26 different coastal habitats, each with its own unique vegetation and wildlife. You come across beach deserts, rocky granite hills and 40 protected oases with wild boar, sea turtles, cormorants, maritime pine forests,” says Melis.
Seafront monasteries and glamping
The towers along the path were built in the 16th and 18th centuries to defend themselves against enemy encroachment.
Alessio Orrù / Adobe Stock
Melis’s 100 Towers Path Association unites hikers, publishes online calendars that flag group hikes and offers a wide range of accommodation suggestions, beach bars (‘chioschi’) and restaurants with special prices for hikers.
Access to the trail is free, but there are private guides for bespoke short walks. The cost is around 150 euros ($ 150) per day for two people.
Hikers can choose from 200 affiliates for their daily pit stop.
The northern coasts of Sardinia tend to be more touristy and crowded in summer, while the rest of the island, especially the southwest coast, is more authentic and offbeat, allowing hikers to fully experience the excitement of the 100 Towers Path.